UNITED NATIONS — Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said Tuesday that his country will never give up its right “to have peaceful nuclear energy” and urged the United States “to demonstrate in a verifiable fashion” that it wants to return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Addressing the annual high-level meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, Raisi said the American withdrawal from the deal trampled on U.S. commitments and was “an inappropriate response” to Iran’s fulfillment of its commitments.
Then-President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of the accord in 2018, restoring crippling sanctions. Iran began breaking the terms a year later and formal talks in Vienna to try to restart the deal collapsed in August 2022.
Iran has long denied ever seeking nuclear weapons and continues to insist that its program is entirely for peaceful purposes – points Raisi reiterated Tuesday telling the high-level meeting that “nuclear weapons have no place in the defensive doctrine and the military doctrine” of the country.
But U.N. nuclear chief Rafael Grossi said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press that the Iranian government’s removal of many cameras and electronic monitoring systems installed by the International Atomic Energy Agency make it impossible to give assurances about the country’s nuclear program. Grossi has previously warned that Tehran has enough enriched uranium for “several” nuclear bombs if it chose to build them.
The IAEA director general also said Monday he asked to meet Raisi to try to reverse Tehran’s uncalled for ban on “a very sizable chunk” of the agency’s inspectors.
Raisi made no mention of the IAEA inspectors but the European Union issued a statement late Tuesday saying its top diplomat, Josep Borrell, met Iran’s Foreign Minister on Tuesday and raised the nuclear deal and the inspectors as well as Iran’s arbitrary detention of many EU citizens including dual nationals.
At his meeting with Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the EU said Borrell urged Iran to reconsider its decision to ban several experienced nuclear inspectors and to improve cooperation with the IAEA.
Borrell again urged the Iranian government to stop its military cooperation with Russia, the EU statement said. Western nations have said Iran has supplied military drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, which Tehran denies.
Raisi spoke to the General Assembly a day after Iran and the U.S. each freed five prisoners who were in jails for years. The U.S. also allowed the release of nearly $6 billion in Iranian frozen assets in South Korea for humanitarian use. The five freed Americans arrived in the U.S. earlier Tuesday.
The Iranian president made no mention of the prisoner swap.
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan walked out of the assembly hall when Raisi got up to speak, carrying a sign with a picture of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died in police custody in Iran last year, sparking worldwide protests against the country’s conservative Islamic theocracy.
Nasser Karimi contributed to this report from Tehran